So...when did my depression kick in? How am I supposed to know? Therein lies some of the problem. I was there but I wasn’t...confusing? It was for me and no less painful.
Looking back, my friends recall me disappearing from nights out - I recall at that time feeling lonely and empty. I left my job after 18 years in 2007 because I felt hollow and in such a dark place. I would often be curled up in a ball in my bedroom. Depression? No idea! What was clear now (but not over the years) was the dark and hollow feeling inside was growing and eating away. I have a wonderful group of friends – many from school days - yet when planning to go out with them, I’d feel so scared, sad and so desperate. Thankfully my friends were understanding but did they think I was showing signs of depression? No.
Having left my previous job, I wanted a role that brought me closer to home. Travelling and being away from family brought anxiety. I took up a role in the community. Initially this seemed to work and bring me some balance. However, the darkness soon began to grow at pace.
For many who know me, they see the Lee who is “bubbly” and often the “life and soul of the party”. No way is he depressed.
Looking back now, that made the suffering even more painful. But did I know what was happening? No.
The community work was great when I was using my “charisma” and “personality” to make a real difference to people’s lives. Without knowing, it possibly acted as my escape; my medicine. However Public Sector was changing dramatically and horribly. Increasingly run by people who were so detached from the ‘real’ world, they believed ticking boxes and justifying existence was all that was needed. Box ticked, people helped: wrong. The battle I was having with the ethics of a huge organisation was dragging me further into the darkness. Surely this was not the right way to work. It wasn’t really helping people – ironically it wasn’t helping me.
The support? Regular 1:1’s in a format that, you guessed it, ticked the boxes. Devised by people who lived in a different world and believed the company came first: box ticked. When leaders asked how I was, did they listen to the answer? Sadly not. I was once given a number to call: box ticked. I was then given an occupational therapist appointment for another condition which was, frankly, useless. During the session, (where they turned up half an hour late), I tried to open up to how I was feeling, but no that wasn’t what the appointment was for.
I was now an entirely differently person. I’d always cared, particularly about doing the right thing and doing a good job. However I was now too regularly in that dark place inside. Did I have depression? No idea? I was making personal and work mistakes. Did I care? No. Ultimately one of those mistakes brought me up against my employer. The wall was hit. It was like travelling at speed knowing the barrier was coming but not knowing when I’d crash. I crashed.
Was I understood? No.
I had to take on the full might of the organisation; “Diagnosed with depression!? But you couldn’t have had depression before that – you did a wonderful presentation”.
Let me put it like this for you: the doctor has only just diagnosed you with depression. When a footballer breaks his leg on a football pitch, is rushed to hospital, x-rayed and then the doctor tells him he has a broken leg...when did he break his leg? I recall a manager asking during a break for one of the ‘battle’ meetings; “Are you OK?” I replied no. They did nothing. I’d also heard that you get sacked for what you do, not what you don’t do. So if you shuffle the issues of mental illness and stresses of colleagues, you’ll always be safe.
So, my recovery. My wife loved me but most importantly knew me - something others in the workplace had chosen to ignore. My wife, mother, step-father, children and friends were there for me - in many ways they were not surprised. I will be forever thankful for their belief and support.
I wonder whether those that judged understand what it is like to contemplate suicide; what it is like to know your children follow you to check you don’t do anything stupid. I had depression but I didn’t know what that meant. I had a wonderful GP who understood. She arranged counselling and medication. As a result, I discovered what I should have known; I was actually a very good human being with an illness, something that didn’t come out in the workplace.
I am now very open about my depression. I now work in the charity environment (unfortunately still witnessing a lack of understanding in the workplace) where I am fortunate to communicate with many people and share my experience with depression through training sessions. After all that time, I now know I have depression. I am aware when a depression episode is upon me – I can ride the storm but the storm is still there. But knowing is a much better position; I can share with family, friends and colleagues.
So there are more than likely many out there in a similar position to me. For the first time, the human race and society have fallen behind with the ability to cope with modern life and pressure. We must learn to put people and colleagues before corporate logos and reputations; otherwise this painful and hidden disease will become an epidemic (if it isn’t one already).